‘Socialism’ made cool again

Russ Caditz-Peck

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Apparently President Obama: coupled with our imploding financial system: has the ability to make even America’s dirtiest word cool again.

Last week’s Rasmussen Reports national survey found that of Americans under the age of 30, only 37 percent prefer “capitalism,” while 33 percent prefer “socialism” and 30 percent are undecided (RasmussenReports.com).

As the chic Neopsychpop synth band MGMT told me, “The youth is starting to change.” But wait: it’s not just the kids! Just 53 percent of American adults of any age responded that “capitalism” is best.

The irony is so palpable I can almost afford stuff again. The president’s most vocal opponents: from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh: have taken every opportunity to link the popular president to “socialism.” It seems Americans have internalized the connection. After witnessing the fruits of eight years of advice from Fox, Rush and friends, the citizenry is ready for anything deemed the opposite.

Ever since Obama unveiled his recovery plan and continued Bush’s bailout precedent, Americans have been bombarded with a farcical attempt at a red scare. The right-wing’s knack for labeling any increases in regulation or public spending “socialism” has truly backfired. The middle class is feeling the growing pressures of the recession, and has identified GOP-style deregulation and a shoddy safety net as major sources of suffering.

The Cold War is over and the face of “socialism” has changed. The social democracies of Europe: complete with free college, health care and a real social safety net: now seem more appealing. The laissez-faire, anti-“socialist” rhetoric of the right has fallen victim to the reality of Europe. As long as our politicians prioritize increased tax cuts for the wealthy above all else, this trend will likely continue.

If Republicans continue to conflate pure socialism with social democracies, the public seems eager to forgive the error and move on to real debate. It is common knowledge that Berlin under Soviet rule in the 1970s is a very different place from Berlin today: or Paris or Copenhagen, for that matter.

Times have changed: no industrialized nations advocate for exclusive public ownership of the means of production, but rather mixed systems that look out for the interests of the public. Americans are justifiably interested in learning more about these systems, and are not frightened by a mere word.

In the aftermath of Bush, the nation demanded a serious debate over what government must do to maintain both American competitiveness and quality of life in a global economy. With the election of Barack Obama, it seems that a major part of that debate has been resolved: at least for now. Americans voted for universal health care, public investment in climate change and green jobs, financial re-regulation, a stimulus package etc.

While the poll results may initially shock, it should come as no surprise that the public: especially the youth with no memory of the Cold War: is increasingly open to prioritizing based upon the needs of   “society” rather than cash and “capital.” The longer it takes Republicans and conservative Democrats to realize this, the further the national mood will shift to the left to accomplish these goals: and keep obstructionist politicians away from the levers of power.